A moving Southern bildungsroman written with verve.

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BROTHER DANIEL'S GOOD NEWS REVIVAL

In Brittain’s (Marriage Roulette, 2006) novel, a callow Kentucky teen joins a traveling Christian revival group and learns quickly about the ways of the world. 

Young Michael Boone is dropped off with his Aunt Elizabeth in Calhoun, Kentucky, while his parents look for work. Three years later, he’s all but abandoned there and anxious to earn some money. When his aunt takes him to a Christian revival headed by the charismatic Brother Daniel, an opportunity presents itself when the group needs a new truck driver. Initially, Michael is startlingly unworldly—he seems unaware that there are religious believers other than Christians—but he’s quickly disabused of his innocence by the troupe’s decadence. Brother Daniel is unreservedly lecherous, particularly toward very young girls, which Brittain unflinchingly depicts: “Brother Daniel had mastered the skill of touching interesting areas of the female form in such a manner that it was unclear, to those watching, whether it was blatant fondling or merely fatherly care.” Michael begins a romantic relationship with fellow teenager Ruth, one of Mother Daniel’s daughters, who’s desperate to run away and escape the sexual advances of her stepfather, Brother Daniel. Michael thinks about running away with Ruth, but he’s unsure if he truly loves her—and he’s also having sexual trysts with her mother. Then, one day, he’s presented with an uncommon opportunity to leave the revival and secure a better life. Brittain seems finely attuned to the absurdity that can be found in rank hypocrisy, and he expresses it in a manner that’s impressively reminiscent of Tom Wolfe’s work. Brother Daniel, for instance, is portrayed as an avaricious, racist pedophile who nonetheless strenuously preaches the gospel of Jesus. The revival introduces Michael to sexual libertinism, “racial vitriol,” unrestrained alcoholism, and bottomless avarice—but not the Lord. Indeed, if Michael learns anything at all on his trip, it’s how to lie. However, the author also tempers the salaciousness of Michael’s experience with an immersion in canonical literature—a gift bestowed by his hilarious but tantalizingly complex tutor, Bert. Overall, Brittain conveys his story with a literary realism that never devolves into cheap cynicism. 

A moving Southern bildungsroman written with verve. 

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63393-510-5

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Koehler Books

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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